Background Info on Canadian Law Schools
Table of Contents
- How is the legal profession organized in Canada? (Go.)
- What are the jurisdictions in Canada and their individual governing law societies with their specific bar requirements? (Go.)
- What do I have to do to become a lawyer in Canada? (Go.)
- What are the names of Canadian law schools, and where are they located? (Go.)
- How do I pick the right school? (Go.)
- Do I need to take the LSAT in order to apply to Canadian law schools? (Go.)
- If the LSAT is not required, should I take it anyway? (Go.)
- Do I have to apply through LSAC? (Go.)
- What are the degree requirements to apply to Canadian law schools? (Go.)
- When should I apply? (Go.)
- What do I need to apply? (Go.)
- What are Canadian law schools looking for in a Personal Statement? (Go.)
- How important are letters of recommendation or references? (Go.)
- How are admissions decisions made? What are my chances? (Go.)
- Do the numbers matter more or less than they do for American schools? What about the written components? (Go.)
- Do I need to apply for scholarships? (Go.)
- Are Canadian law schools ranked? (Go.)
- Where can I learn about Canadian law programs other than their official websites? (Go.)
- How long is a Canadian JD program, and what’s the syllabus like? (Go.)
- Where do Canadian law school graduates end up working? (Go.)
- Can Canadian law school graduates practice in the US? (Go.)
- If I have a foreign law degree, can I practice in Canada without going to a Canadian law school for a JD? (Go.)
How is the legal profession organized in Canada?
Canada’s 14 provincial and territorial law societies issue lawyer licenses and regulate the profession. These societies have different bar requirements (see below), though they are coordinated (loosely) by The Federation of Law Societies of Canada.
What are the jurisdictions in Canada and their individual governing law societies with their specific bar requirements?
- Ontario (Law Society of Upper Canada)
- British Columbia (Law Society of British Columbia)
- Alberta (Law Society of Alberta )
- Manitoba (Law Society of Manitoba )
- Saskatchewan (Law Society of Saskatchewan)
- Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia Barristers Society)
- Quebec (Barreau du Quebec)
- New Brunswick (Law Society of New Brunswick)
- Prince Edward Island (Law Society of Prince Edward Island)
- Newfoundland and Labrador (Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador)
- Yukon (Law Society of Yukon)
- Northwest Territories and Nunavut (Law Society of the Northwest Territories) (Law Society of Nunavut)
What do I have to do to become a lawyer in Canada?
In order to become a lawyer in most of Canada, you must first complete an undergraduate degree and then complete three years of legal study at a Canadian law school that teaches Common Law. Then, you must (1) write and pass the bar exam of a particular province/jurisdiction, and (2) complete the experiential component of becoming a lawyer by either articling (working under the supervision of a licensed and qualified attorney for ten months) or, if you are in Ontario, completing the Law Society of Ontario’s Law Practice Program (LPP). In addition, some provinces, such as British Columbia, require a Professional Legal Training Course, similar to the training course in Quebec.
In order to become a lawyer in Quebec, you must receive an undergraduate degree in Quebec Civil Law from one of six Canadian schools that teach Civil Law. Graduates must then complete a four-month training program at the Ecole du Barreau du Quebec and six months of work placement (articling). Then, you must take an examination administered by the Office de la Langue Francaise consisting of written and oral questions in French. If you pass this exam with a minimum score of 60%, then you may apply to the Quebec Bar.
What are the names of Canadian law schools, and where are they located?
Canadian law schools teach either the Civil Law system (primarily in Quebec) or the Common Law system. The Civil Law system, followed in Quebec and stemming from the traditions of its original French colonizers, is based on the tradition of writing specific and comprehensive laws that apply to all areas of private civil law in a Civil Code. Lawyers under the Civil Law system may be either advocates or notaries. Each role has its own educational and practice requirements. There are six law schools that teach Civil Law:
- Université Laval, Quebec City, Quebec
- University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Ottawa, Ontario (offers civil and common law education)
- University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Quebec
- University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec
- Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Montreal, Quebec
- McGill University, Montreal, Quebec (offers Civil and Common Law education)
The following are Canadian law schools that either teach only the Common Law system, or both the Common Law and Civil Law systems. The Common Law system recognizes a body of law that arises from a history of judicial decisions. The legal principles derived from past cases are applied to the facts of current cases or clarified by judges. Law schools that teach the Common Law system are:
- British Columbia:
- University of Manitoba Faculty of Law, Winnipeg
- New Brunswick:
- Nova Scotia:
- Lakehead University Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Thunder Bay
- Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto
- Queen’s University Faculty of Law, Kingston
- Ryerson University Faculty of Law, Toronto (beginning Fall 2020)
- University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Ottawa
- University of Toronto Faculty of Law, Toronto
- University of Windsor Faculty of Law, Windsor
- McGill University Faculty of Law, Montreal (combined Civil and Common Law education)
- University of Saskatchewan Faculty of Law, Saskatoon
How do I pick the right school?
Research the schools and speak to as many practicing attorneys as possible. Some factors to consider include:
- The size of the town in which the school is located
- The legal market closest to the school
- The size of the law school and the entering class
- The area of law in which you are most interested
- The legal specialties of the law school
- The class profile of the student body and the faculty
- The system of law taught by the law school
- The language in which the degree will be taught
- The general career trajectory of the school’s graduates
- The law school’s philosophy
Do I need to take the LSAT in order to apply to Canadian law schools?
Not all Canadian law schools require the LSAT. Your law school application must include an LSAT score if you are applying to an LSAC-member Canadian law school. The Quebec law schools do not require the LSAT.
However, McGill University, which provides a combined program of both Common and Civil Law, states that if LSAT scores are provided, the results will be taken into account during the review process:
Applicants to McGill Law are not required to take the LSAT. However, if a candidate has taken or will be taking the LSAT, the score will be reviewed by the Admissions Committee. Applicants who have taken or will be taking the test must report the date(s) of sitting(s) and provide their LSAT identification number in the appropriate places on the application. They must do so regardless of whether the LSAT may, in their estimation, strengthen or weaken their candidacy.
Why does the Faculty of Law not require the LSAT?
The Faculty of Law is a bilingual learning environment. We believe it would be disadvantageous to the significant proportion of applicants and admitted students who indicate French as a first language to require, as a matter of eligibility, a test that is not offered in French.
If the LSAT is not required, should I take it anyway?
Probably. Note that about 95 percent of all English-language Canadian law schools either require the LSAT or say that it improves your chances.
Applying to Canadian law schools is a competitive process, and an LSAT score, while not required, is an excellent way to distinguish your application from the rest of the applicant pool. If your undergraduate GPA is below the average for the school’s entering class, you should strongly consider providing an LSAT score.
If you take the LSAT multiple scores, make sure to see how each school treats the results. Some schools will take the highest score into account, while others will take the average score (see table for details).
Do I have to apply through LSAC?
No. Canadian law schools do not require candidates to process their application materials through LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service. Each law school has different application requirements, so you should check the admissions pages of the specific school to see what they require and how documents should be submitted. Be aware that every Canadian law school calculates your GPA in a different way. (See Admissions Information for Canadian Law Schools.)
If you are providing an LSAT score as part of your application, you will communicate with LSAC to provide your official scores to the Canadian law school admissions office as per their specific requirements.
All Ontario law schools use a common electronic application for admission. If you are applying to a law school in Ontario, and you are living in either Canada or the US, you must apply through OLSAS (Ontario Law School Application Service) at the Ontario Universities Application Centre: https://www.ouac.on.ca/olsas/.
The Ontario Law Schools that currently require application materials submitted through OLSAS are:
- Bora Laskin Law School (Lakehead University)
- Osgoode Hall Law School (York University)
- University of Ottawa
- Queen’s University
- University of Toronto
- Western Law
- University of Windsor
What are the degree requirements to apply to Canadian law schools?
Unless you are applying to a Civil Law program in Quebec, you cannot apply directly to law school from high school. You will need to complete or be in the process of completing a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree in any field from a recognized Canadian university, or a non-Canadian university accepted by the admissions committee. Law schools have their own standards and academic and course requirements for entry, so you should look at the policies of the schools to which you would like to apply.
Most law schools require that the candidate have completed at least three years of the undergraduate degree in order to apply. However, the most competitive law school candidates will have completed their four-year undergraduate degree programs. For example, at the University of Toronto, in recent years, only around five candidates out of over 2000 applicants were admitted to the JD program without completing their four-year undergraduate degree.
When should I apply?
Candidates may apply having completed an undergraduate degree from a degree-granting university, or after they have completed a prescribed number of undergraduate credits. The academic requirements vary from school to school, but it is common for undergraduate students to apply during their fourth year of undergraduate for admission the following year.
The application deadlines range from November first to early spring and are strictly enforced. Ontario schools, through OLSAS, set their deadlines first on November first. Many schools have different deadlines for the online application and for what they identify as “supplemental documents.” Make sure to be aware of both deadlines if they apply to you. Some schools have different deadlines for application submission if the candidate wants to be considered for scholarships.
Canadian law schools, other than those located in Ontario, do not use a common electronic application, so the candidate is solely responsible for getting the necessary application materials to the admissions offices in the format and by the methods required. Moreover, application deadlines are strictly enforced, so candidates should be prepared to invest significant time in gathering and submitting materials.
What do I need to apply?
Each law school has its own application requirements, so you should research the schools’ websites for an application checklist. Generally, candidates should be prepared to provide:
- A complete online application from the university website or through OLSAS
- Official transcripts of all post-secondary education
- Some form of statement of purpose/personal statement (for some but not all schools)
- LSAT score (for some but not all schools)
- References (for some but not all schools)
- CV/resume (for some but not all schools)
The Ontario law schools, through OLSAS, may require a list of all activities since high school. This would include employment history, community service, academic awards, and extracurricular activities.
Deadlines for initial application materials, supplemental materials, and scholarship consideration vary from school to school and are strictly enforced.
What are Canadian law schools looking for in a Personal Statement?
First of all, follow the essay prompts and adhere to them. While a personal statement may be creatively written and interesting to read, it should also be a clear statement of purpose, not an exercise in creative writing. If the resume/CV is the place to list your accomplishments, then the personal statement is the place for you to explain your choices, thoughts, and deeds. The personal statement will give the admissions committee a chance to see your persuasive writing skills and personality, something that is not readily apparent from your GPA and LSAT score. No matter what topic you decide to write about, as you write, you should exercise professionalism, emphasize the positive, and answer the practical questions with authenticity:
Why do you, the candidate, want to study law (clarify your motivations), why do you deserve to study law (highlight your past achievements), and why do you want to go to a particular Canadian law school (courses and programming that interest you)?
For guidance and examples, see the following:
How important are letters of recommendation or references?
For many Canadian law schools, letters of recommendation have little effect on the application review. For those schools, decisions are made by using an index of your LSAT score and your undergraduate GPA.
How are admissions decisions made? What are my chances?
Canadian law schools receive and review applications in multiple categories, so when you are ready to apply, figure out which category applies to you. The Regular/General Category represents the largest and most competitive pool of applications.
Because the indigenous people of Canada have traditionally been underrepresented in the legal field, some law schools have a separate Aboriginal/Indigenous Category with different application requirements. Other categories you might encounter include Discretionary Category (candidates with special factors in their background like age, financial hardship, disability, or membership in a historically disadvantaged group), Individual Consideration Category (older applicants or those who have encountered barriers in their education), Mature (candidates with five or more years of professional experience) and Access (candidates who have experienced systematic inequality or socioeconomic obstacles in education). These extra categories also may have different application requirements, such as LORs or medical reports. The Admissions Committee may respond by taking these special factors into account at its discretion.
To determine admissions, Canadian law schools tend to use either a prediction indicator that consists of a combination of the applicant’s GPA and LSAT score, with some weight assigned to each number, or a holistic review method (see table for more detail). For some schools, supplemental information like a personal statement or prior experience are determining factors, while for others their influence is marginal. For other schools, supplemental materials such as personal statements and letters of recommendation will only be considered during the scholarship review process. Lastly, for some particular schools, letters of recommendation will be ignored entirely and candidates are discouraged from submitting any.
Candidates applying to Ontario law schools through OLSAS can expect a more holistic approach to application review. Characteristics to be showcased in the OLSAS application include leadership, community service, and communication skills. Relevant life experiences can be incorporated in the personal statement to showcase the development of these characteristics.
Do the numbers matter more or less than they do for American schools? What about the written components?
For some Canadian law schools, the undergraduate GPA and LSAT score are the primary, and sometimes only, factors in the admissions process. There seems to be less emphasis put on the “soft” factors that US law school applications try to develop and highlight. For those Canadian schools that state they engage in holistic review of applications, they will use the personal statement and an optional essay to gather information about a candidate that cannot be conveyed by the numerical scores.
For applicants in the Regular/General Category, some schools will ask for or allow statements of interest or personal statements that focus on the candidate’s interest in law and the school in particular, as well as ways in which the candidate will make a positive contribution to the law school community. This personal statement may be used in making an admissions decision or in determining a scholarship award. Instructions for these personal statements range from very specific to very broad. Candidates should be conscious of not writing beyond the prescribed topics.
Essays discussing factors such as disability or special needs, financial disadvantage, or membership in a historically disadvantaged group due to systematic discrimination are more likely requested of candidates applying in other (not Regular/General) admissions categories. The review standards are different for these categories. The number of candidates admitted in these other admissions categories is much lower than those admitted from the Regular Category.
Do I need to apply for scholarships?
If candidates want to be considered for scholarships from Canadian law schools, there may be a different application deadline from the regular application deadline and different required documents. The admissions committees may look to letters of recommendation and personal statements to determine scholarship awards.
Canadian law school tuition tends to hover around $20,000 per year—a major expense, though considerably lower than US law school tuition. Canadian merit scholarships are typically lower as well.
Are Canadian law schools ranked?
Unlike the US, which has over 200 law schools, and several publications and organizations that rank and categorize them, Canada has fewer than 25 law schools and no definitive ranking system. If you want to know what the best school is for you, consider which schools feed the legal market you want to work in and speak with as many practicing lawyers as possible.
Where can I learn about Canadian law programs other than their official websites?
How long is a Canadian JD program, and what’s the syllabus like?
In Canada, the first law degree program (JD) takes three years of study.
During the first year, students take core courses such as Contracts, Property, Constitutional Law, and legal research and writing. Students may participate in trial advocacy or counseling competitions, volunteer in legal clinics, and join university clubs. In the summer after the first year, students continue to volunteer in law-related jobs, work for a professor, or work in a legal clinic. (Often, career offices will tell students that the summer after first year is the last opportunity you have to work in a non-law related field.)
During the second year, students have the opportunity to select upper-level elective courses in the areas of law that interest them, alongside usually three or four mandatory courses. They also participate in mock trial. During the summer after their second year, students usually work at law firms, legal clinics, or legal departments for the government. They also interview and apply for articling positions.
During the third year, students take more specialized coursework, and assume leadership roles on journals and in student organizations.
Where do Canadian law school graduates end up working?
Canadian law schools do not list their employment numbers on their websites, so a candidate will have to connect with a school or its alumni to determine employment prospects. Applicants who intend to practice in Quebec must receive a law degree from a law school in Quebec. Applicants from Quebec who wish to practice English Common Law must attend a law school in a different province or territory. Three national mobility agreements amongst the Canadian law societies regulate the practice of lawyers across provincial and territorial borders.
Can Canadian law school graduates practice in the US?
Canadian lawyers will have to apply to and pass the bar exam of the state jurisdiction in which they wish to practice. Each state has its own rules about bar eligibility, so you would have to decide where you wish to live and work. A few jurisdictions, such as New York State, would allow a foreign-trained attorney to practice provided that they complete a certain number of credits at an American Bar Association-approved law school for at least one year. Often Canadian law graduates will pursue an LL.M. degree to fulfill bar exam eligibility requirements.
If your goal is to eventually practice in the US, you could consider a dual JD degree at the University of Ottawa. This four-year dual credential program enables participants to obtain both the Canadian and the American JD degrees through partnership with Michigan State University and American University. Each year, approximately fifteen students in this unique program spend two years at Ottawa and two years at the US law school. Upon graduation, you would be eligible to sit for the bar in both Canada and the US.
University of Windsor, in collaboration with Detroit Mercy, offers a rigorous, three-year Dual JD degree program. Students complete credits at both campuses (situated twenty minutes from each other across the international border), and learn Canadian and US law simultaneously.
If I have a foreign law degree, can I practice in Canada without going to a Canadian law school for a JD?
As a foreign-trained lawyer, you must first determine if you have fulfilled the education requirements necessary to receive your law license. You must have your academic and professional credentials evaluated by the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA).